Long Weekend in the Middling West


Driving down Cahuenga, I see a billboard for The Wolf of Wall Street. In the periphery, I see another tall sign, this one in neon, capturing a hitchhiker in action. He is wearing Birkenstocks and has a fish burger for a head. I pull into the 7-11 parking lot across the street to take a closer look. Below him are the following neon-lit phrases:


I figure since I’m already at 7-11, I might as well buy a pack of Parliaments. As I’m waiting in line, a middle-aged woman in a Nightmare Before Christmas hoodie drops three super long Slim Jims and three Coors Light tall boys on the counter. She says to Lima, the cashier, “Hey, you know what happened to the spicy pepper ones? You used to have them, for like two months. Now you don’t.” Lima responds, “I don’t know. Maybe ‘special edition’?”

I step up to the register, ask for my pack, and Lima asks me how I’m doing. I say I’m doing fine and ask her if she’s ever had Tom’s famous pastrami. She says, “Pastrami? What is this?” I point at the sign outside. She shakes her head with unexpected vigor. I casually nod my head, swipe my debit card, enter my PIN, and walk away, saying thanks and goodbye.

As I exit the front door, I see a character from a Harmony Korine film pacing across the street, but there is no camera. I walk past my car and toward the furthest boundary of the parking lot. This haggard man, looking like he just arrived from Cleveland by Greyhound, stands below the previously mentioned neon man. The man beneath does not have a fish burger for a head; he has a human head for a head. He is not wearing Birkenstocks. He is wearing two boots—the kind of boot you would wear if you severely injured your foot. As I scan him from his boots back up to his head, I first see what look like burn marks on his thighs, but I can’t tell from this distance. Then I see silver running shorts, similar to those I always associate with Steve Prefontaine, shimmering in the neon’s rays. Then I see a potbelly, perhaps a pastrami belly? A weathered navy blue graphic t-shirt rises above his rotundity, and out from each side, extend two burned arms (from the sun, not from whatever got his legs). Attached to his shriveled neck is a gruff head—picture Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused meets Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club, if Matthew McConaughey wasn’t so goddamn good looking.

When I finally get back to my place, Rachel and I decide to watch last week’s episode of True Detective. This shit is dark.

As the HBO static intro begins, I crack open a Budweiser and pretend it’s a Lone Star. I miss Texas, even though the last time I was there, I was flung out of a golf cart by a cowboy and almost died on impact. Luckily, there happened to be a homeopathic nurse/philosopher on-site, who ironically drove me to the hospital where a surgeon who looked like Armond White and had a crush on Fran Tarkenton took care of me.

So we were hanging out on this farm, in the middle of the night. My buddy, the cowboy, told me he wanted to take me to the place of an alleged haunted slave house. It sounded like something you ought to do if you are in the area, so I agreed. The whole thing was much more unnerving than I had imagined.

We got to the house, which was essentially a run-down shack. There’s no way it was old enough to have existed before the Civil War. The walls were made of some cheap wood paneling that looked like your uncle’s den. The floors looked like the tile job at an Elks Lodge. The toilet was like a Kohler or something. It didn’t make any sense. But it was beyond creepy.

I knew it couldn’t have been a slave house, but I figured it could have been the very modest mid-century dwelling of a servant to some oil baron. This was what made the whole thing even creepier—the fact that some people apparently didn’t think slavery ended until the Civil Rights movement. But when you really think about it, maybe that’s true. Maybe those of us who come from elsewhere don’t have the guts or direct experience to be honest with ourselves.

I distinctly remember standing on the bathroom seat, smoking one of the cowboy’s American Spirit Yellows, and telling him, “Dude, you need to chill out in that fucking golf cart. You’re really freaking me out.” He said, “Don’t be such a pussy, Keith.” Ten minutes later, he hit a divot, lost control of the wheel, and we ended up slamming into the upward side of a ravine. I hit my head off the metal pole that encases the vehicle and face-planted into the moist field. I didn’t move for about half a minute. When I came to, I couldn’t see very well, but I could taste rust and blood. To me, they taste the same. I don’t think that’s unique to me though. I could hear faint screams, which when in unison were reminiscent of late Maryanne Amacher recordings.

The next day was one of the most bittersweet days of my life. My buddy, the cowboy, got married. His wedding was the day after he almost committed vehicular manslaughter. In hindsight, I feel bad that he had to deal with that guilt on the most monumental occasion of his life up until that point. At the time though, I was pretty upset that one of my best friends almost killed me due to being aloof to my requests. At least the surgeon gave me Oxycodone to streamline the momentary morbid experience.

That was the first weekend after I moved out West. The entire following month was a weird one. Texas is full of paradoxes, but then, I suppose the state where I now reside has just as many. But at least there are medical marijuana dispensaries on every corner.


I woke up at 6 am and have had three cups of coffee. It’s now 9:27. I was up late last night, drinking and writing. I really got on a roll, fueled by those surrogate Lone Stars.

I was taking a smoke break at some point last night, puffing on a Parliament on my back porch, and after thinking about my most recent near death experience, I began to think more critically about cowboys. I know there are plenty of people who maintain the cowboy mentality in Texas. As I’ve made clear, I know some of them personally. But I wonder about Wyoming, and other states like that one.

I began to think about isolation. And I thought about how isolation breeds acceptance; well, acceptance of intolerance. When you’re all alone, your way is the only way.

I met a man from Idaho once. For being so isolated, he was incredibly articulate. He probably could have been a successful politician, but he just wanted to be a farmer.

Are there actually legit cowboys these days? Like, I mean, are there cowboys who don’t want to be on television? Are there cowboys who just want to be left alone? Do they read fiction?

Cormac McCarthy doesn’t write fiction for cowboys. He writes fiction for city slickers with sex fantasies they think are violent. Hey, did you read that story about his ex-wife’s vagina gun holster?

Sometimes, when I’m drinking past say 3 am, I worry that the next morning will be my first hangover. I don’t know anything about hangovers. I know plenty about hang-ups though.

Right now, I’m transferring PDF files into Word documents and then scanning each one to make sure there are no errors. I don’t trust Microsoft’s spell check tool. Though, I have become accustomed to using it, regardless. I use Word every day. Why is Excel called Excel? I guess money equals success, at least to most people; but to me, reading is far more tolerable than spreadsheet formulas, even if it’s reading with a highlighter.

Shit. It’s almost 6 pm. The best thing about drone work is that it allows time to become abstract. The worst thing about it is that this sort of abstraction is often dull and filled with routine actions, like Robert Motherwell paintings. I don’t know how anyone can defend those wretched things.

One of my best friends, Matt, who has been living here a few months longer than me wants to take me to some bar downtown tonight, modeled after speakeasies, or rather, more accurately Martin Scorsese’s exaggerated idea of a speakeasy. In any case, he said he read a great review of it in LA Weekly. I obviously am aware of the publication—I have read it before, but I’m new to this town, so I’m not sure who or what to trust. Having said that, I tend to trust him. And I don’t want to be cynical either. I just want to have a few drinks.

After about an hour of traffic on the 101 South, I pick him up at his place in Koreatown. We drive a few miles past the Staples Center and end up parking behind a Mercedes SUV and next to a few 39-gallon trash bags. A homeless man approaches my Jeep Patriot and starts banging on the passenger side window. I ask my friend if he’s okay with me cracking his window a bit. He says he doesn’t mind. The man proceeds to tell me he thinks I should back up more, that I still have room. So I pull back, make sure all four windows are fully up, and Matt and I both get out of the car. Matt gives the guy a dollar and the guy asks for a cigarette. Matt hands him a Marlboro Red and says, “Maybe I should invite him in for a cocktail, too…?”


I wake up this morning and drive down to Randy’s Donuts and order a coffee, black. This place is a landmark. I don’t give a shit about that; I just want to watch airplanes. The cashier asks me twice why I don’t want any donuts. I don’t answer him either time.

I sit in the back of my Jeep with the back door open, smoke a few Parliaments, and drink my coffee until it is finished. I watch airplanes fly overhead and listen to KDAY on the car radio. There are far less airplanes than usual today. The rest of the country is experiencing a “polar vortex,” with temperatures below zero almost everywhere but here. It’s supposed to be in the seventies until dusk.

I throw away my coffee and head back to my Jeep. Now I’m hungry. As I turn the ignition, R. Kelly is on KDAY. I’m not in the mood for irony at the moment.

I decide I’d like to get an omelette for breakfast. It’s still fairly early. I drive northeast to Nick’s Café. There’s a bit of a wait and a lot of cops. I sit outside in the sun and read articles about New York on my iPhone while I wait to be seated. A young Hispanic man in a brand new Suicidal Tendencies t-shirt approaches me and says, “I have one open, follow me.”

I sit down at the bar and another Hispanic man, way too handsome to be working at this place, asks me if I want coffee. I say, “Of course. Black. Water, too.” Moments later, a handsome black woman, slightly older than everyone else in my sight line, asks, “What would you like, sweetie?” I order an omelette with tomato, mushroom, and Swiss. She tells me I made a good choice. I agree with her.

As I wait for my omelette to arrive, I watch all the cops eating around me. Most of them don’t talk, even though they’re with their patrol partners. They just eat their pancakes and drink their coffee in silence. There are two black cops sitting not too far away from me talking about Django Unchained. I didn’t pick up the context of the conversation. The Golden Globes aired recently and the Oscars are coming up, so maybe they are just talking generally about blockbusters and awards and shit. Regardless, they seem very emphatic about it. I can’t tell if they’re fans or not. I’m not really trying to find out, either.

After about five minutes, the black server comes back and drops my omelette in front of me, and I can tell she’s paying attention to these cops as much as I am, which is to say just enough to feel an unusual amount of anxiety. As I begin to first tap some hot sauce out onto my eggs and then squirt some ketchup onto my hash browns, the cop to the right swings his chair clockwise and asks the white man next to him, “You ever call a brother a nigger?” The white man says, “No, sir.” The black cop says, “I bet you have, but I ain’t gonna arrest you.”

I finish the last of my hash browns and place fifteen bucks on the counter. The same cop looks over at me and says, “Have a nice day, wigger.” I’m confused by this passive-aggressive and fleeting interaction, initiated by this confused man of authority. He had previously been so aggressive with the other white man, plus my drawl is that of an overly educated smart ass from Iowa City, not an angry dude with baggy pants from the suburbs of Detroit. Maybe this mid-life crisis Ice Cube in the flesh overheard my car radio when I pulled up?

Anyways, I walk over to my car and start driving back through Chinatown. I decide to get a massage. I start with a half hour. I’m not sure if this old woman has a back-only policy, but her English is terrible. After the first half hour, she says, “More?” I say yes and point to my legs and feet. So then another half hour passes by and she says, “More?” I say yes and she goes back to work on my upper body, but this time works my arms and hands, too. Another hour and a half later, I say, “No more” and hand her $160.

Sometimes we just can’t help ourselves. Excess is a refined way to define a persona. I try to keep my excess to a sporadic limit.

By this time, it is almost 5 pm. I’m not in a rush, so I decide to drive back down through Koreatown. College to Temple to Virgil. Route as metaphor, metaphor as route. I make a right onto Virgil and drive past a young man wearing a Lakers jersey, Tar Heels mesh shorts, and shower sandals with socks. Beats by Dre headphones are crushing his dreadlocks. He is riding a mountain bike (hands-free) down the middle of the street. I don’t think I’m the only person on the road who wants to plow him. I never thought about what an annoying pedestrian I might be until I started driving regularly.

I’m on my way to some poetry reading or film screening (or maybe both) in Echo Park. I get there and none of my friends are there yet. But there is beer from San Diego and poets from New York. My friends end up being no-shows, but the poets introduce themselves to me after the readings all conclude. We get to talking, and they invite me to some house party in Sherman Oaks. This sounds like a spectacle, so I figure why not. I pick up Rachel on the way, since she likes spectacles, too.

I show up and am quite taken aback by the spectacle. The house is a hillside mansion. The crowd is a surreal mix of aspiring sea punk fashion models and lazy drag queens. Lots of Hello Kitty, lots of Uggs, lots of roller skates, lots of drugs. Apparently, the drag queens are performance artists and are going to perform later, so I decide to stick around for that. My girlfriend is happy I want to stay for a bit. I sip on some miscellaneous German beer and ask if she wants to walk around. She says she needs a drink. I pour her some Jameson and we wander, scoping out the crowd, waiting in anticipation for one of these superstars to start entertaining.

We go outside onto the back raised patio area and spot the poets. I light up a cigarette, Rachel nurses her Jameson, and we start making conversation. The conversation is somewhat stilted, so I go to the end of the deck and look out onto what I can make of the distant foggy urban landscape. I hear moaning to my right and look over and then down. There is a skinny young man, resembling a dandy Luke Perry, with bleach blonde hair, a dangly earring, and leather pants around his ankles. An even skinnier young woman with a platinum dye job is riding him and moaning, louder and louder. Interspersed with the moans are indecipherable whispers. I can’t help but laugh and stare. Rachel keeps tapping me and telling me to stop, but Kurt and Courtney are so twisted on Molly, they are completely ignorant to their audience.

After spending a bit more time watching this train wreck, one of the drag queens starts lip-synching into a microphone, while a codeine-flavored Beyoncé track plays on through her iPod, onto the expensive looking PA system. All the sea punks bob and nod and twist their hips and lick their lips. I look at Rachel and tell her I’m tired. It’s 3 am. I’m wondering again about my first hangover.


I wake up at 8 am, feeling just fine. All I want to do today is watch football. Rachel and I decide to go get some breakfast. I decide I want another omelette. She wants an omelette, too. We go to the east side diner. The west side diner’s food is cold and greasy. We both ask for avocado on the side. Have you ever thought about how gross a cooked avocado would taste? Well, either the waitress wrote down the order incorrectly or the cooks failed to pay attention, but either way, the omelettes come out with avocados inside them. Though, I’m kind of glad this happened, because now I know cooked avocados are pretty decent.

On the way back home, I decide to pick up some beer for the second game. The first game is on too early to start drinking out here. I go to the bodega across the street from the 24/7 car wash because their beer selection is a bit better than the 7-11 and the Arab dude who owns it is really sweet and gives me a “discount,” which just means he says I can use a card without being charged extra. My friend Kyle, a nutritionist, tells me he’s making food for us.

Jesse texts me, “Hey can u pick up sour cream 4 the nachos?” I guess we’re eating nachos. After I get some beer, I head over to the section of the refrigerator where sour cream might be and there are two giant containers; both expired in August of 2013. It’s now January of 2014. I put the beer back and walk out the door. The cashier repeatedly chirps at me, “My friend?! My friend?!” I ignore him and cross the street and head back to my 7-11.

I get two sixers of Budweiser and head to the register. I make eye contact with Lima and she smirks at me. There is a cholo dude in front of me, gathering random shit, so he can make three separate debit card transactions and get thirty dollars back in cash. See, the thing is, ten dollars is the maximum amount of cash back per purchase at 7-11, and the ATM inside has absurd fees. So this wise guy was thinking outside the bun. I applaud his clever and patient effort. I think Lima appreciated it, too.

I light a cigarette, walk home, and make some coffee. Ten minutes go by, the first game starts, people show up. The first game is surprisingly underwhelming, so I don’t mind that folks started to crack open beer and talk about other shit. Kyle makes us a killer nacho platter, and after we finish it, we move on to gin and tonics.

The second game is a thriller. I have to repeatedly tell Rachel and Jesse to at least pretend to pay attention. By the time Richard Sherman scares Erin Andrews on camera during the post-game interview, we have each had a few drinks. We look at each other in awe. His passion and fluidity are inspiring, yet intimidating. Her reaction is smug, yet detached. I shouldn’t be surprised by the negative response to this arresting moment, but I am. I open up my laptop and scroll through page after page online. I read the horrible things people are posting to various sites and I think back on the black cops at Nick’s Café. I wonder what they would have to say about all of this.